Dear Law School students, staff and faculty,
I am pleased to welcome all of you back to the Law School as we begin our semester tomorrow – whether “back” in your case means on campus or virtually. Throughout 2020, our community showed tremendous flexibility, resiliency and creativity, and our shared success lends us confidence as we embark on this spring hybrid semester. Our ability to be partially in-person last fall derived in large part from your commitment to protect not just your own health but that of the broader public, and I appreciate your continued collective behavior toward those important ends. Even as we all grow tired of adapting to this pandemic, continual adherence to testing requirements, masking and social distance recommendations inside and out of the Law School, and minimized social interactions remain vital tools in maintaining our hybrid structure.
Of course, tomorrow marks not only our first day of classes but also an important and anxious day for our nation, as we look to D.C. and the Presidential Inauguration with well-founded concern. The violent occupation of the Capitol on January 6th vividly illustrated that there are those who dishonor some of our greatest democratic traditions in refusing to accept the results of a fair election and the peaceful transfer of power. The white supremacy fueling some of the insurrectionists and their supporters, and the stark racial disparity in law enforcement’s immediate response to this predominantly white group of rioters, were a grim testament to our nation’s history and our continued reckoning with racial inequity.
At the Law School, addressing persistent issues of racism and inequity remains a key priority. This includes our significant investment in need-based student financial aid, the creation of three new scholarships to honor the work of Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander L’27, and substantially more fellowship, scholarship, and loan forgiveness resources for future public interest lawyers. At the same time, we continue to amplify important voices and catalyze discussion through our yearlong Achieving Racial Justice colloquium and keynote addresses to our community. In just a few weeks, the Law School will co-host a conversation between Stacey Abrams, who leads Georgia’s critical voter protection movement, and Benjamin Jealous, the Law School’s Distinguished Visiting Fellow. More details about the many facets of our institutional work can be explored through the Equity and Inclusionpages of our website.
We are keenly aware of the challenges that remain, but have reasons to be hopeful even in these tumultuous times. For all of the contestation around it, the November 2020 elections produced the highest percentage of voter turnout in over a century, and election officials from both parties were effective and resolute in dealing with high volumes of ballots and scrutiny. In this week where we honor the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.one notable result from this historic election is the swearing in to the U.S. Senate of Rev. Raphael Warnock, who holds Dr. King’s pastoral seat at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and whose election further extends Dr. King’s legacy. Perhaps most vividly, within these walls I see abundant reason for hope in the talents, commitment, and sense of professional and civic ethics that all of you bring to your legal studies and subsequent careers. Our nation and world are in need of principled and public-spirited advocates as never before, and those of you who are students here give my colleagues and me optimism and enhanced motivation to teach and support you in the months and years ahead.